Los Angeles, CA
I tend to think of change as a force so slow as to be almost imperceptible, from moment to moment. Think aging, glaciation, and gravity (that inexorable ravager of boobs, nose tips, and every baseball that dreamed of being a game winning home run, but ended up in a glove on the wrong side of the wall). But some change does come about as a sudden shock. If I ever see a ghost in my bedroom, or Bigfoot in my yard, my entire world view will change in the time it takes my heart to thump, loudly, once.
I experienced one of those moments when I was a teenager. I went to an old rundown theater in our tiny country town, to see “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” The venue was named the Waldo Theater, and rumor had it that it was designed by the same architect responsible for Radio City Music Hall. Unlikely, but the Waldo did have a certain shabby glamour. For a brief, shining year or so, it became a revival movie house, and “River Kwai” was one of their first screenings. My sister and I were huge Alec Guinness fans, thanks to Star Wars and a late night TV broadcast of “The Lavender Hill Mob.” I had developed a predilection for ancillary characters and the actors that played them - Humphrey Bogart was great and all that, but Peter Lorre was more my cup of strychnine tea.
As you can probably guess, I had already embraced classic movies (along with the New Yorker magazine and big band records) as emblems of my future adult life, in some exciting creative milieu, in the big city. I seem to remember planning on a future self who also smoked cigarettes and wore hats. Both, regrettably, came true for a time. So, this trip to the revival house was a very positive step in the direction of Future Town.
We got our popcorn, settled into the balcony, the lights went down, and we watched one of David Lean’s very best films - which is saying a lot because David Lean was a goddamned genius and the best director who ever lived and I will happily throw down to defend that opinion. It’s too much movie for a quick precis to do it justice, but for those who’ve never seen it – Alec Guinness is a British prisoner of war, forced by his Japanese captors to lead his men in building a bridge in Burma. Because he is a British man of honor, he does a cracking good job of it. William Holden is an American commando sent to blow up the bridge. The finale is violent. I won’t say anymore.
And now we finally get to my ECIAH moment. During the bloody climax, Guinness has a moment of clarity, and utters the words, “What have I done?” That line could easily be woefully melodramatic, but in the hands of Guinness and Lean, it’s heartbreaking. And in that moment, I shifted gears. I didn’t just want to escape into movies anymore, I needed to make them. I needed to break strangers’ hearts too. That moment led me, eventually, to Los Angeles, my husband, my child, a writing career, and a backyard with a palm tree. And that’s the other thing about life changing in a heartbeat. Sometimes, you don’t even know it’s happened, until decades later. What have I done? Not sure yet, it’s still happening.